Top Five Useless Watch Complications

Top Five Useless Watch Complications

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

In the world of watches, "complication" is typically what functions are called. The more things a watch does, the more complications it has. Most of these are historical and have been around for centuries, proving to be useful and interesting. That latter camp of "interesting" complications incorporates a lot of potentially complex features that have arguable utility. Nevertheless, we still enjoy them for the simple effort and time required to produced and assemble them. They exist for the sheer love of things "complicated."

Most complications are rather useful - even in our modern digital world. In addition to the time we enjoy having features such as the date, day of the week, more complex calendar functions, perhaps a second timezone, chronograph for measuring the time, and even things like the time all over the world. Those are pretty useful things. Then there are complications that while not totally useless, are certainly not very useful for the majority of people. We've assembled a list of the top five complications that are not useful, but still desirable and also potentially very complicated. They are the top ones because we still seem to like them despite their mostly vestigial nature and lack of real use in our lives.

5. Foudroyante

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

What is it?

A foudroyante is also called a jumping seconds hand. What it mostly does is move very quickly on a watch dial. Depending on the speed of the movement, the foudroyante hand makes a few very brief stops as it makes a full revolution each second. The one above for example make six stops each second, and runs continuously as opposed to being part of a chronograph.

Why is it useless?

Aside from looking interesting and showing you how fast the little hand moves, it doesn't do anything. You can't use it to measure anything, and it is simply there to indicate fractions of a second as you watch it. We like how it looks, but the jumping seconds hand is mostly cosmetic these days in mechanical watches.

4. Planetarium

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

What is it?

The idea behind planetarium complications is actually really cool. Some or all of the planets in the solar system are taken into account and their relative positions to one another as they revolve around the sun are indicated on the dial. Only a few watches are able to do this. Some models go a step further and indicate more complex information about planetary movements. Planetarium watches originated from larger planetarium displays that existed as standalone machines or on clocks. It was all about miniaturization.

Why is it useless?

While it might be interesting to know the alignment of planets, it doesn't really do us any good above trivial knowledge. Planetarium watches are also notoriously difficult and complicated to adjust properly, and if your watch stops, chances are that you won't be qualified to reset all discs properly yourself. Because of this, most people with planetarium watches aren't even looking at anything accurate. Plus, even amateur astronomers would use more precise digital instruments to view this type of data if they really needed to know where to look for Saturn tonight.

3. Equation of Time

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

What is it?

In some regard the equation of time is the ultimate useless, yet emotional complication. It is a scale that goes from plus or minus 15 minutes on the dial. What does it do? The idea is to show you the difference between the true solar time and the "civilian" time. This is also called the difference between the apparent solar time and the mean solar time. This exists because based on where you are standing on this planet, the time might look a bit different. This difference is always somewhere between plus or minus 15 minutes.

Why is it useless?

It can be interesting to know how much the time on your watch deviates from the true solar time, but it doesn't actually matter in terms of coordinating with the civilized world's schedule. It is a reminder that the way we measure time is celestially inspired, but that doesn't mean it can help us be on time or plan our days any better.

2. Moon Phase Indicator

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

What is it?

The function of a moon phase indicator is pretty self evident. Typically using a slowly moving disc with circles on opposite ends, it shows the phase of the moon as it waxes or wanes. Two semi-circles on the dial cover the circles that represent the moon to create the appearance of the moon "growing" or "shrinking" as it appears to do in the sky as more or less of it is covered in shadow. Sometimes the circles are printed to look more realistically like the moon, and some moon phase indicator watches are extremely accurate, requiring adjustments only each 120 years or so. Typical moon phase indicators keep a 29.5 day cycle which is pretty close to the actual moon phase cycle in the sky.

Why is it useless?

For many people, the moon phase indicator is the ultimate emotional complication. There is a sort of old-world gadgety sense to knowing the information as it has importance to some people who fish or farm. Though we challenge you to find people farming or fishing these days who are wearing elegant high-end mechanical watches while out in the field. While the moon is our closest celestial neighbor, its phases don't have much importance to most of us 99.9% of the time. Plus, we are fortunate enough to know - with perhaps even more precision - the phase of the moon just by looking up at the sky each night. So even if you are someone who needs to know what is going on with the moon on a regular basis, glancing at your mechanical watch isn't really much better than simply looking for that large bright thing in the sky at night.

1. Tourbillon

Top Five Useless Watch Complications   ablogtowatch editor top lists

What is it?

There is actually some debate on whether the tourbillon escapement is actually something which is technically a complication or not - this is because it doesn't actually add any functionality. Invented back in the late 18th century, the tourbillon style escapement assembly creates a cage which spins the balance wheel and associated parts around on their own axis (usually once each 60 seconds). It was designed to theoretically make pocket watches more accurate by negating the effects of gravity, as pocket watches are typically kept in a vertical position. In the 20th century some people built tourbillons into wrist watches - almost as an experiment - to attempt to make them more accurate. Toward the end of the 20th century the tourbillon starting showing up in an exposed form on watch dials, in timepieces that commanded huge prices. Why? Well because tourbillons are quite tricky to assemble, and they look stunningly beautiful in their operation. Having said that, there is no evidence that the tourbillon has any positive effect on mechanical movement accuracy whatsoever. At best they are just as accurate as a well made and regulated non-tourbillon watch.

Why is it useless?

As we mentioned above, the tourbillon is a purely aesthetic addition to a high-end watch movement. Does it make a watch movement technically more complicated? Yes. Does it do anything else? Arguably no. It is a fancy luxury that has etched itself in the minds of many people to mean "expensive watch." With many tourbillon-based watches costing over $100,000 it is purely a form of decadence. Decadence we indeed love and aspire to own, but useless when it comes to adding any sort of utility to a watch.

48 comments
ouzaloid
ouzaloid

The moon phase might be usefull for muslims because islamic months start with a new moon and end with it, Thus a full moon corresponds to 14th day of a month. it's as useful as the "DATE" function for Greforian months.

rosskale2
rosskale2

Since I have had time (excuse the pun) on my hands ,again,about mid luxury-high end watches when someone asks you-"You paid $5000 just to tell time?" No-you bought it for art and a piece of jewelry.Like I said,what is it with the price of watches? When someone says they need a new car so they buy a $40,000 car,why? I have a less than $100 G Shock I wore at work just to tell time and something strong.I have a $700 watch I bought not only to tell time but also as a piece of jewelry....Please,I would like to know the big deal about watch price.No one says anything when someone buys a painting with scribbles all over it for $10,000...

rosskale2
rosskale2

I think basically if you want it get it.It's like buying a car with an outside temperature gauge or heads up display-I mean-I could say,why do you need heads up display if you know how to drive.Or just roll down the window,is it cold or hot? yes,they may be useless complications but i think it is just preference,not a need.For some people like an astrologer it might be neat-o.yes,for some it might be useless but for the watchmaker it is art...just my opinion...

rosskale2
rosskale2

I saw someone ask about taking their divers watch into the shower.Now i am not a watch expert but i have read that with some watches the extreme hot-cold temperatures could expand and retract the gaskets.If you don't know,just take the watch off...(Such as taking a divers watch into a sauna-hot tub...

rosskale2
rosskale2

I see so many UNI-directional bezel watches.Why? Shouldn't a rotating bezel only rotate one way so if by chance it does rotate say in a divers watch the only problem is you come up early? I would like to know...Why UNI-directional...

Biffo10
Biffo10

I'm so glad a day & date display is not classed as a 'complication' on a watch.

Not knowing the date is everyone's curse from time to time, but if you have no

idea what day of the week it is, you've got bigger issues than worrying about the

usefulness or otherwise of watch functions  lol !      I wonder if anyone had the nerve

to tell Henry Graves Jnr or James Ward Packard to their faces, that some of the 

complications on their ( now multi million $ ) Patek super complication pocket watches,

were useless ?  I doubt it, the clue is in the title, 'Super', not 'Useless' 

Ty Mickan
Ty Mickan

Urey the new Rolex Yachtmaster II with the 10 minute countdown is the most useless watch complication ever created. If you've bought one the all I can say is "haha".

AffanMK
AffanMK

@mynameisRaiyan this blog calls the tourbillion movement a useless complication!

avdejesus
avdejesus

This article helps discard that feeling of wanting to buy watches with complications other than a chronograph. From a logical standpoint, I am so happy I read this...helps me save money for other things useful. Lol!

shiranduarte
shiranduarte

I constantly hear people saying that any wristwatch is almost nothing more than a decorative jewel, because they use their cellphones as watch. Doesn't they hear themselves? Because that sounds absolutely nonsense to me! 

It's pretty like backing to the time when people used to carry pocket watches around. I can walk under a heavy rain with my wristwacth. I don't need to let my wristwacth plugged on the wall socket 4 hours straight, each 72 hours... You see... Today they are preferring to own a plastic, heavy and not water resistant 'pocket digital watch' that requires to be recharged at least twice a week!  

How can anyone say that cellphones replaces wristwatches? 

(PS: I'm brazilian, sorry for my rough english...)

Panagiotis
Panagiotis

Good list there and i agree with all the complications except the moonphase. I think the weather feels more humid during a full moon, with higher chance of rain where i live.

Also, to all the people complaining that the chronograph is useless--seriously?

I use it all the time, from timing my daily coffee preparation, measuring cooking time, seeing how much time i have left when i punch-in a ticket atthe metro, to measuring elapsed time of a flight when i travel- couldn't have a more useful complication!

I also like to time my daily commute time and see the average time it takes if i take a different route for example. A bit compulsive yes, but far from useless.Also, in the case of a chrono with a dive bezel i tend to use both to time different events (again, useful when travelling).

Another overlooked feature that i use a lot is the slide rule--not a complication per se but very useful for currency coversions--try converting 44 rubles to 1 Euro off the top of your head :)

If it takes the same amount of time to use my watch to do something, versus my phone, i'll go for the watch 9 times out of 10!

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

Good list and Good points.

I will debate the usefulness/uselessness of the 'moon phase' indicators. I have seen it used quite a lot by fishermen, commercial captains and surfers and a few others who live along the coast line. Although the local newspapers and now computer/cell phone apps make this a bit redundant.

This feature is in some less than expensive watches so it is available to the masses.

I will 2nd, or 3rd, the utter ridiculousness of the 'chronograph' feature and add the 'tachymeter' feature to the list. I have worked with dozens of engineers who have worn watches with this feature and none used it. I must also offer that I have seen 3 make an attempt to use it after I asked about it...they were baffled and soon suit the effort.

IMO, more than 3 hands is a clutter of space on a watch face. I will give an OK to a date complication - but I'm a bit chagrined by a 'day of the week' offering.

Really...is it that damned hard to keep track of the day of the week?

(If so...Dude...I wanna party with you)

nateb123
nateb123

You know, I don't think the word "useless" applies to any complication.  If uselessness is due to being inaccurate or irrelevant, then isn't the entirety of haute horlogerie useless?  Mechanical watches don't even keep time that accurately.  In a world of cell phones and atomic clocks, they are somewhat pointless.  Yet that's exactly what's endearing about them.  The same goes for a British warship with sails, or a Ferrari 250TR, or an antique table.  Somehow they're better than their mass-produced, modern equivalents.

Those items that are designed, crafted and assembled with care are likely not the best for the job.  A mechanical watch doesn't tell the time all that well or have 6 independent alarms.  An antique table may not be as sturdy as a new one from Ikea.  But despite their functional deficiencies, they fulfill a separate purpose.  Mass-produced items are very necessary to us but they have no magic. And we all want some magic in our lives.

PhilR
PhilR

I think there is one complication that at least should have made an appearance on this list, if not have taken the #1 or #2 spot, strictly based on its high praise in the watch world and extreme annoyance (at least to me) from a technical standpoint. And that complication is: any chronograph with "accuracy" of 1/100 secs or less. TAG is by far the greatest culprit of this nonsense. In technical measurements, "uncertainty" and "accuracy" are not synonyms, but distinct measurands. In the context of, say, a TAG Mikrogirder, the accuracy of the measurement would be 1/2000 secs. However, human reaction time is, on a good day, around 0.2 secs. Which means that to start your measurement on your chronograph and to stop it (two instances of hitting a pusher in response to some visual/auditory signal) you have just racked up 0.2 + 0.2 = 0.4 secs of uncertainty on your measurement. If the uncertainty of a measurement for a human activated chronograph is bound to tenths of a second, then it makes absolutely no sense to report a time measurement to any more decimal places than the tenths place. 4.1 secs = OK. 4.15 secs = garbage. The uncertainty of the measurement washes out the accuracy. If TAG really wants meaningful 1/2000 secs measurements on a mechanical wristwatch, then they better hook me up with some sort of ultra-responsive Luke Skywalker cyborg hand, cause it ain't happenin any other way.

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

If it works, then it can't really be called 'useless', considering the fact that it does something as intended - it has a use. Just not a practical one.

Tourbillon would be the only true 'useless' complication - if tests on it have been done, I'm sure they were never published because they would only slap the truth in your face that they do nothing other than add a series of 0's to a price tag.

P Oktori
P Oktori

ps: what we need is a greater reserve on handwound watches. Most watches still give you little more than a day to rewind your watch. You'd expect more than that in 2012... 

P Oktori
P Oktori

Great article! 

The sheer number of chronographs sold is a mystery to me too, and especially chronograph dive watches. I don't see myself doing laps at the bottom of some sea, and then still think my super slo-mo time will be worth recording. But they look good, and I suppose that's why people like these complications. I wouldn't mind a tourbillon to look at; it's the barely visible ones I don't get. 

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

When you get right down to it, outside of simply indicating that your watch is still running, the humble, but ubiquitous, second hand is no doubt the number one complication that most people could  live without. How many times do you tell anyone the time down to the second? Sure, you can casually time things but you know you really want a chronograph for that sort of thing.

I'm not saying to get rid of the second hand, it gives visible life to a a watch. But really it is not needed for telling time in most cases.

Dudoso
Dudoso

Y la nueva complicación que hace que la gravedad sea 0 absoluto, me estoy refiriendo al Oscilador Armonioso, que tenemos que decir sobre esto? deja un poco obsoleto al tourbillon?

ExperimentJon
ExperimentJon

I'd add dead seconds to the list. Why buy an expensive complication that makes your mechanical watch look like a quartz watch?

droo
droo

definitely I would love to get a tourbillon watch with a foudroyante small second, showing equation of time as well as moonphase with (as an extra) a planetarium on the back. No I do not agree, useless information is useful. See Van der Klauw watches, Those are a magical useless timekeepers but you get a two years waiting list to catch one. Usefulness is not the main goal, complication is. If it was not the case we would all be happy with a basic quartz watch. We all love complicated mechanical stuff here : useless expensive watches with useless complications. My daughter tells me" why do you want me to carry a watch, My cell phone is doing a better job". She's damn right.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

Would agree with all of these.  The tourbillon is an interesting one because it could potentially be useful, but I wonder if any studies have actually been done.  A manufacturer could strap a small data logger equipped with a silicon gyroscope on to the wrist of a 'typical' customer and throughout a day (or week) record for how long the 'watch' was in a vertical or horizontal position.  This way the benefit, or lack thereof, of a tourbillon could be reasonably established.  With centuries-old technology that has reached an optimal level of refinement long ago, perhaps all that is left is seeing who can add the most daring and bold (read ridiculous) complication.  Sure, there are more advanced materials that can be used but the mechanism is doing the same basic thing it always did and the same basic limitations remain.  It's even happening with quartz movements.  It's a technology that has matured very quickly.  If you believe that accuracy was the main drive behind the quartz revolution, then a watch that loses or gains five seconds a year is enough even for the most anal people.  Perhaps it is because of this that I am seeing more and more quartz regulated watches that incorporate technology from the mechanical watch world, in an effort to make a more exclusive and appealing device. 

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@rosskale2 You are exactly right. For diving a uni-directional bezel is best. However if a bezel on a (non-dive) watch is used to display hours (either 12 or 24), the it will often turn in either direction to allow time zone changes in either direction.

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

@Ty Mickan You might want to look into the starting procedures for yacht racing before continuing with this line of thinking.

Save a bit of 'foot-in-mouth' from increasing.

mynameisRaiyan
mynameisRaiyan

@AffanMK Indeed, what he has written is not entierly false. its true that its not proven to have positive effects on an accuracy level.

rosskale2
rosskale2

@shiranduarte I think I understand what you are saying.If you have a mechanical watch heck,if something happens just keep it wound and you don't have to worry about charging and if so you can also find your north-south axis on it...Like I said in a post before,I don't understand the big ridicule about watches(I'm talking about mid luxury-high end).Do you really need it? No. it's a want. Like I said,when a bride shows here ring to her friends and the ring was $5000 there are ooohhs and aahhs...That's nice. but when someone buys a watch for $5000 they are crazy! Why? Some watches are for the art of jewelry.Like I said,i have a watch I used for work to tell me the time less than $100,I also have a watch that was $700 and even that people say "WHY"? because I like it that's why.

rosskale2
rosskale2

@Panagiotis It's been so long since i have used a slide rule and I agree with you,A rotating slide rule bezel isn't useless unless your a kid now-a-days and have a computer do everything for you.I remember using my moms abicus(did I spell that right?) I am not really to old but i do remember using a slide rule.I think people need to learn how to do things the old fashion way because when the time comes they are going to be lost...

P Oktori
P Oktori

@Panagiotis Mmm, may be I SHOULD get a chronograph after all. You make it sound like a lot of fun! 

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@Panagiotis Agreed.  I use my chronograph quite often.  It's one of those things you don't realise is that useful until you have it.  Cameras in phones were considered a useless addition but now everyone uses one, just because it opens up new possibilities.  I care about my time and I prefer to have the capability of timing all sorts of events - it also makes a watch look more utilitarian and less like a pure fashion item.

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

auit = quit...some sneaky bastid put the S perilously close to the Q on my keyboard

Ariel Adams
Ariel Adams

Wait a minute... You were able to find a sturdy table at Ikea?

rosskale2
rosskale2

@nateb123 Agree and I will say it again.No one says anything when someone buys a $40,000 car.I mean,do they REALLY need it? probably not.If you are someone who finds fine handmade watches as art then go for it! You don't really need it you just want it right? If I were a painter I would want to be paid good for my art,right?

shinytoys
shinytoys

@nateb123 Agreed...watches are mini works of wonderment, engineering prowess and sexiness. Watch nuts like the engineering and the precision...dare I say well executed toys ? It makes us happy, gives us that joy-joy feeling, and makes our lives just a bit less mundane...

Ariel Adams
Ariel Adams

Well, assume that most of the movements are based on 100 year old technology. So there isn't really that much innovation these days in high-volume movements aside from how they are made.

Ariel Adams
Ariel Adams

My understanding is that most chronograph watches are sold because of their look not functionality. Just a mainstream fact.

Panagiotis
Panagiotis

@MarkCarson Oh and btw, the only time i use the running seconds hand is for counting 30'' increments when doing my Listering rinse!!!

Panagiotis
Panagiotis

@MarkCarson Totally agree about the running seconds hand! I used to love it but when i consider how much faster i can set the time without the need to synchronize the seconds hand, i realize that's A LOT of minutes of my life i'm not getting back ;)

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

@Jake Flash In a mechanical movement this behaviour requires considerable engineering expertise.  The other, perhaps more practical reason is that should you be using the seconds for some trivial timing task and it's on a subdial, the indices would be very close together making it hard to distinguish whether the hand was pointing at one index or the one next to it (in the case of smoothly running seconds).  This is why for example Spring Drive chronographs have implemented a minute sub-dial that jumps from marker to marker, to make it easier to read.  

Ariel Adams
Ariel Adams

I want to remind everyone that the sentiment behind the article is the "top" complications that aren't useful but we still want. Mainly for emotional reasons. I love these complications for sure, but am simply pointing out that they are not useful most of the time. You say that "useless information is useful." I think you need to add more context to that statement - but in the end if something is emotionally useful, that doesn't make it functionally useful.

Ty Mickan
Ty Mickan

And timing this with a normal chrono is not practical for what reason? Sorry, I don't sail so I'm not too sure how time works in the yachting world. I know it's 10 minutes, but obviously it's a little different to the normal ten minutes that's one could use a Speedmaster, for example, to time. Actually not sure how the timed it before the release of the YM2.

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@DG Cayse Gotta agree with you. I used to reace sailboats on lakes in Iowa as a youth and the 5 minute and 10 minute count downs were so important to getting a good start.

Panagiotis
Panagiotis

@DG Cayse The downside is that whenever i wear a time only watch i get withdrawal symptoms and somehow feel less "in control" of managing my time--harder to cut it to smaller sized chucks as it were.I am making every effort to switch to a two hander that, a friend pointed out, is stress relieving.Will let you know how that goes after a week on the wrist :)

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

auit = suit = quit.......bastid strikes again!

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@Ty Mickan Counts down (from 10, 5 etc) vice counting upwards from zero. Just avoids doing subtraction in your head  while you are planning that all important drive to the starting line just as the gun goes off and the flag goes up. Heck, you could do it with the normal minute hand on any watch. For that matter, you could use normal hands (plus the math) and never need a chronograph either. All comes down to convenience. Cheers.

rosskale2
rosskale2

@Panagiotis @DG Cayse No doubt.I am afraid if I get too many watches my brain will go into watch overload.I like boots and I am already on boot brain overload.I sit and stare at my boots and can't decide which pair to wear.My wife says I am worse than a woman with their shoes!!

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